Leona O'Neill: It's shocking that half of north's children will experience bullying

As part of Anti-Bullying Week, the organisation behind the Parentline NI service offers advice to parents on how to recognise signs that their child is being bullied, and tips on what action they can take to protect them, writes Leona O'Neill

Verbal abuse such as name-calling, physical abuse such as damaging belongings and being left out are forms of bullying

THIS week is Anti-Bullying Week, a time that all schools and colleges are turning their attention to highlighting and celebrating their anti-bullying policies, and asking their students to remember that ‘Change Starts With Us’.

Anyone who has been the victim of bullying or had a child who has been bullied at school will know the mental and physical turmoil bullying has on the psyche. Bullying wears a child down, disrupts their schooling and has a serious impact on their wellbeing – affecting mental health, sleep, confidence, indeed every aspect of their life.

Unfortunately bullying is something that a lot of our children will have to face, not only in person but, in this modern age, online also.

Leading Northern Ireland organisation Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI) says bullying has been a growing concern for parents who have been contacting its Parentline NI service and has offered some of the signs to look out for that might demonstrate a child is being bullied.

Ellen Finlay, policy officer of Children in Northern Ireland, says that more than 50 per cent of children here will be affected by bullying at some point during school – a frightening statistic.

“Bullying does take on many forms so it’s important to know about these,” she says. “From verbal abuse such as name-calling, physical abuse such as damaging belongings, being left out, sending abusive texts, spreading rumours or trying to control or undermine.

"It can affect a child in so many ways including poor attendance and performance at school, give them low self-esteem and can even affect their mental health – in the short and long-term – if not dealt with.

“Bullying can happen to children through online activity or face to face, such as in the playground, and it’s important for parents to know the signs of bullying so they can do something about it. We want parents to know they are not alone and can contact Parentline NI, a free and confidential helpline that and our Parent Support Workers are there at the end of the phone to offer a listening ear. We can help them if their child is being bullied.

“As part of Anti-Bullying Week, the aim is to empower children and young people and we are encouraging children and parents to embrace the theme ‘Change Starts with Us’ and to remind people that being kind can make a huge difference.”

Parentline NI has detailed some of the signs for parents to look out for that might show their child is being bullied. These include:

:: Your child being withdrawn all of a sudden


:: Your child having cuts or bruises that are unexplained


:: Their belongings being damaged


:: Not wanting to go to school


:: Not wanting to go play with friends


:: You might see changes in their online behaviour


:: They may say they are feeling ill


:: Your child acting out of their normal character.

As a parent, as well as taking practical steps, you can help your child to develop the ability to cope with these upsetting situations. This is building their resilience.

Parentline NI has detailed some steps parents can also take but remind parents they can always call the helpline for advice and specific strategies should their child be getting bullied.

:: Parents should look out for the signs and listen to their child without over-reacting. It is important that you tell your child that you love them and will be there for them.

:: Be honest – if you need to get involved, or you need to contact school then tell them you’re doing this, and why. Keep talking to them and create a safe and calm space for them.

:: Spend time with your child, doing things that you all like to do as a family. Try to ensure your child has positive activities to build their confidence and ability to cope – sports, hobbies, other friendship groups.

:: Speak to the school or get in touch with Parentline NI first for advice, support and guidance.

:: Parentline NI is open Monday to Thursday from 9am-9pm, Friday 9am-5pm and Saturday from 9am-1pm and you can call free on 0808 8020 400 or chat online at

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